Tested: 2019 Jeep Wrangler (JL) Rubicon – Tech Takes to The Rough

Jeep may be claiming its new iconic mud-plugger is more focused on broadening its appeal into the lifestyle urban market but the new car is still very much a rough-and-tumble merchant.

That’s simply because all those issues that arise while driving the range-topping Rubicon 2.2 MultiJet II, with wandering steering, noisy chunky treaded wheels that slip on wet tarmac and body roll at speed with all that extra sidewall to flex, become the essential off-road attributes that a serious weekend dirt-tracker will require. While I’d love to detail exactly how good this thing is off road, having scrabbled over huge rock steps on the way to a cracking view of Coniston Water in England’s stunning Lake District, we can’t ignore the level of top-draw technology Jeep has implanted in this agricultural implement. Top-draw it deserves to be, too, with a UK price tag of £46,865 ($61,922) that challenges many premium German products, albeit nowhere near that of the Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen muscle cars.

That said, our powertrain section should take note of the down-sizing trend of engines is even reaching ‘playtime’ vehicles with the new JL model featuring FCA’s 2.2-liter MultiJet II turbo diesel engine with four valves per cylinder, a belt-driven double overhead camshafts, 2,000-bar common rail injection system, solenoid injectors and a variable geometry turbocharger. This puts out a healthy 200 horsepower at 3,500 rpm and, more importantly for an off-roader, an even healthier 450Nm of torque at 2,000 rpm. It also features the fuel-saving start/stop technology. Transmission is through a very sophisticated silky smooth eight-speed automatic gearbox.

Yet, it’s inside the cabin that old-school meets the techie nerd because big and bold taking center stage in the surprisingly plush leather upholstered interior is the 8.4-inch touch-screen LED color display. This claims to allow the driver to configure information in more than 100 ways.

Possibly the most intriguing, not to say useful for the serious rock scrambler, is the vehicle readout information including which wheels are getting the best grip on broken surfaces, information on the selectable differential locks and, most crucially, an inclinometer for both pitch and yaw to make sure you haven’t reached the extreme limits of the Wrangler’s abilities.

Now here is where the future for dirty weekend fun could lay – imagine all this on-board technology married to cloud-based information about that specific piece of terrain the vehicle is being asked to cope with. Ford has just announced it will be installing the what3words navigation app to its vehicles where the whole world is reduced to a patchwork of 3-meter squares. With the knowledge of previous, sometimes expert, users’ experience of tackling specific off-road challenges, the future Wrangler could be automatically selecting the best Rock-Trac driving modes on the Rubicon including disconnecting the sway, or anti-roll, bars and choosing which differentials to lock depending on the upcoming terrain.

Naturally, talk of all this potential autonomy will send any self respecting hairy-chested, red-meat chomping current Wrangler owner running for ‘them there hills’. Yet, if Jeep is serious about broadening the model’s appeal, it could be the way forward in getting less confident novice off-roaders to try their hand at some weekend adventures.

It also raises the question of what the car ownership model will look like in a world increasingly dependent on ride-sharing, car-sharing behaviors that most mobility experts predict to be the future. Many of us believe there will always be an ownership model among discerning niche consumers who want to spend their free time mucking about with motors, whether that be in classic sportscars on track days or in hardcore mud-merchants up to their axles in mud, gravel and rocks.

In this way, I for one, believe cars like the Wrangler have a very bright future ahead of them.

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in London. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_

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